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After a family tragedy, Roger (Jason Vail) and his teenaged son Micheal (Miles Joris-Peyrafitte) decide to uproot and make a new life in the far off woods, packing everything they have into the back of a pickup truck, hoping to start again in a rustic cabin. Not long after they arrive, once seeing that the place as been ransacked, young Uncle Will (D’Angelo Midili) and outlandishly obnoxious family friend Sergio (David Saucedo) show up and turn the family affair into more male-bonding and a bit of hunting. Not long after, tracking a deer, they come upon of clan of Sasquatch and now the hunters become the hunted.
Written and directed by John Portanova, in his feature film debut, Hunting Grounds (formerly Valley of the Sasquatch) begins as a decent story about a traumatized family dealing with a terrible loss as a father and son try to cope and rebuild. Roger is a man with nothing left, no money and no job, just trying to put a roof over his and son’s head, while Michael wants only to try and find a good college and find a way to improve his lot. The dark tone and dramatic first act shifts to horror as the monsters come into play, and the film’s budget threatens to derail the entire experience, though Portanova manages to work some good moments considering what he’s got to work with.
That mostly has to do with the relationships, which Portanova puts a great deal of effort in building in the first half, developing a kind of two-camps mentality with a bond between Michael and Uncle Will versus Roger and Sergio, though Roger does his best to temper tensions. This actually get better as the movie grinds its way to the halfway point as they become better defined and we realize that maybe the real monsters are not just the ones howling in the dark.
That said, there’s no escaping the lapses in the script and some stiff acting that tend to weaken credibility. This starts pretty much when the Bigfoot monsters show up and things steadily loose momentum. Joris-Peyrafitte and Midili come off best, with both younger actors having the most impactful performances. Vail has a few good moments but unfortunately Saucedo is almost unwatchable, over-doing it with every line, never making the most that the character potentially inspires.
To be sure, Portanova can setup a good fright, and there’s some solid scary imagery, this mostly due to abandoning CGI and putting actors in Bigfoot costumes, which surprisingly, hold up for the most part, given what it is. But the film is really less about Bigfoot monsters than it is about conflict, and for fans of the genre hoping to see lots of monster mayhem, they might be disappointed. Serious breaks in logic cripple the excitement of the finale, though once again, considering the limitations, could be forgiven. Portanova makes use of some effective moments and perhaps given a bit more money, he could do something great. As it is, Hunting Grounds is decent B-movie fun that might not live up to its potential but could make for a second entry in a cheesy double feature.
Hunting Grounds releases on February 7
Movie description: Hunting Grounds is a 2017 independent horror movie about a father and son who move to a cabin in the woods, only to discover they are not at all alone.
Director(s): John Portanova
Actor(s): Bill Oberst Jr., Jason Vail, Miles Joris-Peyrafitte